By Chido Makunike
CONFUSION reigns over the issue of who will step into President Mugabe’s shoes as head of Zanu PF after he steps aside, despite written down procedures of what is suppo
sed to happen in such an event. As pressure on Mugabe to go mounts, maneouvring to be in line to take over from him is intense in the ruling party.
This is an issue of interest to all Zimbabweans because of the great possibility that whoever emerges as leader of Zanu PF after Mugabe will also become president of the country. If the succession is conducted cleanly and democratically and a popular, well-respected ruling party member heads the party, it could be rejuvenated from its current doldrums.
That new leader might be able to win a presidential election against even a strong Movement for Democratic Change candidate, despite the significant recent electoral gains of the main opposition party. The widespread antipathy to Zanu PF is concentrated in the person of Robert Mugabe and the destruction he has left in his wake, more than it is to the party itself.
Despite years of corruption, national decline and increasing repression, there remains residual goodwill towards it as a movement that could be harnessed to win over a large part of the electorate were Mugabe no longer on the scene.
If, as is entirely possible, Mugabe’s successor as ruling party leader is someone as tired, discredited and washed up as he, that successor could still work himself to be president of the country. An unpopular Zanu PF leader could still end up ruling us whether we like it or not, as some cynics would argue is happening now. So we all have a stake in who takes over from Mugabe as Zanu PF leader.
It is interesting that within Zanu PF talk of Mugabe’s exit is only from the viewpoint of when he will be ready to step down. Known pretenders to the throne cowardly scamper and deny any interest in the position when they are asked about it. Mugabe so dominates his party and is so feared that there is virtually no thought of pushing him out as party leader on the grounds of the disrepute he has brought it into from its previous lofty heights in public affection.
Zanu PF is at a juncture of crisis in its leadership now, but who is brave/reckless enough to possibly save the party by challenging the tottering king? No one that I can see! The ruling party has been brought so low in public opinion and is so inextricably linked with Mugabe’s failures that it could disintegrate into open factions on the fall of Mugabe, particularly if that coincides with an election in which the opposition is well prepared, and also if Mugabe’s successor as party leader is poorly chosen. One would have thought the founders of the once mighty Zanu PF would have the interests of the successful continuity of their creation at heart more than the fear of Mugabe, but that does not appear to be the case. So a whole political party will continue to watch its fortunes and prospects decline out of the fear and idolisation of one man!
I simply cannot imagine a scenario where any players in the party would rise to the occasion of saving their party from eventual political obliteration by scheming to oust an incumbent who seems to put his own ego and personal interests above those of his party and nation. Mugabe will therefore likely go if and when he is good and ready, rather than when it is best for Zanu PF and for Zimbabwe, which would be immediately. Part of the reason that Mugabe is allowed to get away with being virtual monarch rather than mere party leader, in addition to control by inducement of fear, is that Zanu PF no longer has any defining ideology.
The formal plan of succession based on party seniority cannot be ignored, but neither can it be taken as immutable. Scheming could easily take precedence over procedure, as has been the case in many other cases in the party’s history before and after Independence.
Emerson Mnangagwa would appear to be Mugabe’s preferred successor. They go a long way back together. He is unlikely to do a “Mwanawasa” on Mugabe like the current Zambian president, handpicked by his predecessor Frederick Chiluba has done on his benefactor. Mugabe’s secrets and any sins committed by him are likely to be quite safe with Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa is intimately familiar with Mugabe’s methods of keeping dissenters and independent thinkers in the party in line, so continuity in this regard would likely be assured. Mnangagwa, like Mugabe, is more feared than he is respected and so in this regard party members may hardly notice any change from a handover from the latter to the former. Some have said Mnangagwa is about as charismatic as a wet blanket. In Zimbabwean and African politics lack of charm is not much of a hindrance to attaining power, as there are more innovative and effective ways of getting it than appealing to the people’s hearts and minds!
Naive sentimentalists often invoke Simba Makoni’s name as a possible party successor to Mugabe. I think this can be ruled out for many reasons. He has not shown any signs of the ruthlessness that would be required of a Zanu PF boss.
My point is that Makoni seems too soft and gentle to keep an unwieldy gang such as Zanu PF together. Nice guys have no hope of getting very far in Zanu PF. His reputation for being relatively clean in most respects may have endeared him to many Zimbabweans who are tired of the crookedness we have become accustomed to from Zanu PF politicians, but this is precisely what would make him suspect among many of the party’s top guns.
The ruthlessly corrupt top barons of the party might settle for him as a temporary last resort if they were convinced there was no way to avoid an internationally monitored presidential election in which it would be difficult to employ the traditional tactics of “winning”. Makoni has the good name and image locally and internationally that few others in Zanu PF who are talked about as possible future presidents still have.
But even this is a very long-shot scenario that gives Zanu PF more credit for self-preserving good sense than they may have or deserve.
It would be fascinating to see if Zanu PF has grown beyond being a preserver of the Shona elite’s interests to having a former member of bitter foe Zapu and an Ndebele being its leader. The official party dogma is that all these issues were resolved with the unity accord of 1987, but this remains to be really tested. Certainly among a bunch of bad apples forming the party’s top leadership John Nkomo is not as bad as some of those pretending to the throne. Being from a party that was swallowed whole by the ruling party and being from outside the Shona hegemonic groups, he would have to play his cards unusually well to land the top post and keep control over many of the party’s barons.
For the time being under Mugabe the ruling party continues reeling from events out of its control that threaten to send it into political oblivion on the same trip that sends Mugabe into an inglorious exit.
Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.